Transgender male swimmer Lia Thomas (formerly William Thomas) has been nominated by the University of Pennsylvania for the prestigious NCAA Woman of the Year Award, prompting renewed backlash amongst athletes and commentators.
“Not enough fabulous biological women athletes, NCAA?!? What is wrong with you?!!!!!!!?,” tweeted former professional tennis player Marina Navratilova.
“Penn nominated transgender swimmer Lia Thomas as their NCAA woman of the year. Hell of an accomplishment to be woman of the year after only being a woman for a couple of years,” tweeted radio host Clay Travis.
“It isn't 'inclusion' that leads the Ivy League to pull stunts like this. It's misogyny - and utter contempt for the truth,” tweeted Abigail Shrier, author of ‘Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters’.
"How many women's awards are we willing to surrender?...The Ivy League choosing a male as their nominee is doubling down on their anti-woman campaign," tweeted former NCAA champion swimmer Marshi Smith.
The award is meant to honor the "academic achievements, athletics excellence, community service and leadership of graduating female college athletes" (emphasis added).
The nomination comes after Thomas won the women’s 500-yard freestyle final at the 2022 NCAA women’s swimming and diving championships earlier in the year, becoming the first transgender athlete to win a US national championship.
Previously ranked 462 in male college swimming, Thomas’ wins and records have sparked heated debate around whether transgender athletes should be allowed to compete in women’s sports, with many female athletes and other commentators expressing the view that in order to ensure a fair playing field, women’s sport should be restricted to women.
It seemed like things were finally starting to progress in the right direction then, when last month, world swimming body FINA made the landmark decision to restrict the participation of transgender athletes in elite women’s competitions. The decision means Thomas will no longer be able to vie for the Olympics, as the transgender swimmer had hoped. Future NCAA competitions will also restrict transgender swimmers from competing, as the organisation has agreed to defer to national and international bodies’ rulings.
Female athletes and women’s groups celebrated FINA’s decision as a win for common sense and fairness for women and girls in sport, and other sporting bodies have since started to follow suit.
Given this background, UPenn’s decision to nominate Thomas for the NCAA Woman of the Year award, appears to be an intentional slap in the face to women. Former NCAA swimmer Riley Gaines, who was also nominated for the award by the University of Kentucky, has expressed this sentiment exactly:
“It’s a mockery, that’s what this whole thing has turned into. Something we, as female athletes, have dedicated our whole lives to, it’s something that people are laughing at. It’s an insult. It’s incredibly disheartening. And quite frankly, it’s wrong.”
“We have an NCAA Woman of the Year [nominee] who’s spent 95% of their life as a male. It doesn’t add up. It’s incredibly insulting. Think of all the athletes at UPenn, the deserving female athletes, who did not get this nomination and Thomas did after quite literally only one year. Woman of the Year, it makes sense, because it’s been one year Thomas has spent as a female.”
“It’s insulting. It’s a punch in the gut, it’s a slap to the face and it’s a total regression of what Title Nine stands for.”
Gaines, who has a string of swimming accolades, finished behind Thomas in the 200-yard freestyle at the NCAA championships, and has also tweeted that the NCAA has made the award “worthless”.
Thomas’ NCAA championship win culminating in the ‘Woman of the Year’ nomination is the perfect example of just how far the detriment to women extends, when males are allowed to compete in women’s sport, and when trans-identifying males are recognised as women more generally. As a result, female athletes can miss out on places in sporting teams, in competition finals, on national titles, and on prestigious awards, which further translates into lost opportunities when it comes to sponsorship and career prospects. And this is to say nothing of the damage done to young female athletes who do not wish to compete against males, but who feel disempowered and forced into silence for fear that they will lose even more if they do speak out.
While Australia does not have the exact award in question, it is not difficult to see how a similar injustice could happen here given that other awards are already open to males who identify as women and that trans-identifying males are already able to compete in women’s sports. It is critical that Australians push back against this affront to women and girls, which is why we are asking you to join us in signing the petition telling our politicians to legislate protections for women’s sport.
Women’s Forum Australia is an independent think tank that undertakes research, education and public policy advocacy on issues affecting women and girls, with a particular focus on addressing behaviours and practices that are harmful and abusive to them. We are a non-partisan, non-religious, tax-deductible charity. We do not receive any government funding and rely solely on donations to make an impact. Support our work today.
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